Li Sao (離騷)(Encountering Sorrow or Encountering Trouble) is a Chinese poem dating from the Warring States (戰國時代) of ancient China. The poem ‘Li Sao’ is the lead poem the Chuci (楚辭) collection. This famous piece was written by Qu Yuan (屈原)( c 340–278 BCE), an aristocrat of the Kingdom of Chu (楚國). In Li Sao, Qu Yuan manifested himself as a poetic character and despaired that he had been plotted against by evil factions at the King’s Court with his resulting rejection. He was an upright and loyal person and he compared himself to the purity of the flowers and fragrant herbs. He persuaded the KIng to take his advice and get back on track. The King refused. The capital city Ying (郢) of the State of Chu (楚) was later captured. In 278 BCE, Qu Yuan drowned himself at Miluo River (汨羅江) in protest against the corruption of the era. His social idealism and unbending patriotism have served as the model for Chinese intellectuals.
Li Sao written by Mi Fu (米芾書離騷經) is now kept in the National Palace Museum, Taipei (國立故宮博物院).
(古時上下都可稱朕, 至秦以後, 惟獨天子稱朕。)
Scion of the high lord Gāo Yáng,
Bó Yōng was my father’s name.
When Shè Tí pointed to the first month of the year,
On the day of gēng yín I was born.
My father, seeing the aspect of my nativity,
Give me a virtuous name.
The name he gave me was Zhèng Zé (True Exemplar),
The alternate name he gave me was Líng Jūn (Divine Balance).
Having from birth this inward beauty,
I added to it fair outward adornment:
I dressed in Ligusticum and Angelica which grow in secluded places,
And twined autumn orchids to make a garland.
Swiftly I sped as in frightful pursuit,
Afraid time would race on and leave me behind.
In the morning I gathered the Magnolia on the mountains;
In the evening I plucked the sedges of the islets.
The days and months hurried on, never slowing down;
Springs and autumns sped by in endless alternations.
And I thought how the trees and flowers were fading and falling.
And feared that my Fairest’s beauty would fade too.
When will you not cast out the impurity when you are fit and strong ?
Why will you not change the erroneous ways ?
I have harnessed brave courses for you to gallop forth with:
Come, let me go ahead and show the way!
The three kings of old (Yǔ, Tāng, Wénwáng) were most pure and perfect,
Then indeed people of virtue had their proper place.
They brought together pepper and cinnamon;
All the most-prized blossoms were woven in their garlands.
Glorious and great were those two, Yáo and Shùn,
Because they had kept their feet on the right path.
And how great was the folly of Jié and Zhòu,
Who hastened by crooked paths, and so came to grief.
The fools enjoy their heedless pleasure,
But their way is dark and leads to peril.
I have no fear for the peril of my own person,
But only lest the chariot of my lord should be overturned.
I hurried around your chariot in attendance,
Leading you in the tracks of the kings of old.
The lord does not know my loyalty,
He believes calumny and gets angry at me.
I know that bluntly loyal admonishment will bring disaster,
Yet I will endure and I cannot give up.
I called on the ninefold heaven to be my witness,
And all for the sake of the Fair One, and no other.
(45 曰黃昏以為期兮，羌中道而改路！)These two sentences might be absent in the original text.
I arrange to meet you in the evening,
But you change your route on the way.
There once was a time when we have reached agreement;
But then he repented and was of another mind.
I do not care, on my own account, about this divorcement,
But it grieves me to find the Fair One so inconsistent.
I had grown many ‘acres’ of orchids.
And planted a hundred’acres’ of melilotus;
I had raised sweet lichens and the fragrant herbs,
And asarums (wild ginger) mingled with fragrant angelica,
And hoped that when leaf and stem were in their full prime,
When the time had come, I will reap a fine harvest.
The herbs which I planted die but I need not lament,
But I grieve that all the blossoms wither away.
All others press forward in greed and gluttony,
They never satisfy with their demands:
Using one’s own standard to harshly judge others;
Leading to envy and malice.
Madly they rush in the greedy chase,
But this is not what I am anxious about.
For old age comes creeping and soon will be upon me,
And I fear I shall not leave behind an enduring name.
In the mornings I drank the dew that fell from the magnolia;
At evening ate the petals that dropped from chrysanthemums.
If only my mind can be truly beautiful,
It matters nothing that I am pale and feeble.
I raise the wood decorated with Angelica,
And thread the clusters of fallen petals.
I twisted the Cinnamomum straight and added fragrant herbs onto them,
And tied the lithe, light trails of fragrant herbs (Michelia?) into beautiful knots.
I follow the ways of old virtuous sages,
Not what the materialistic world cares for;
Though it may not accord with present-day manners,
I will follow the pattern that Peng Xian has left
(Peng Xian: a figure that many believes to be the God of Sun.)
Some of the plants mentioned in the poem
(Rough English translations of the plant species mentioned in the poem. It is difficult to find out precisely the species concerned.)
Mi Fu (米芾) (1051–1107) was a Chinese scholar, calligrapher, artist and poet born in Taiyuan (太原) during the Song Dynasty (宋朝). He is best known for his calligraphy, and he was regarded as one of the four greatest calligraphers of the Song Dynasty. His contributions to calligraphy and painting field are highly valued. Mi Fu died at the age of 56.
Bibliography and further readings :
傅鍚王, 張孝裕 (2011) 新譯楚辭讀本,三民書局ISBN 978-957-14-0739-5
繆天華(1984) 離騷九歌九章淺釋, 東大書局
David Hawkes (2011) The Songs of the South: An Ancient Chinese Anthology of Poems by Qu Yuan and Other Poets, Penguin Classics. ISBN 9780140443752